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 Russian Reaction Blog / War in DonbassTeasers

I don’t follow many people on YouTube, since it’s not really my format, but EmperorTigerstar is one of the few people I make an exception for.

Not only has he mapped all the classics – WW2, WW1, Napoleonic Wars, history of Europe and the Roman Empire – but also plenty of relatively less well known conflicts such as the Wars of German/Italian Unification, Balkan Wars, Chinese Civil War, and Rise/Fall of Assyria

 
• Category: History • Tags: Map, Ukraine, War in Donbass 

On March 15, the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, headed by Alexander Turchinov, a hardliner who launched the “Anti-Terrorist Operation” as the interim President after Euromaidan, signed off on the legalization of the Donbass blockade, and transmitted a request to Ukraine’s Central Bank to finalize a plan to put sanctions on Russian banks operating in the country.

In what has long been typical of Ukraine, both actions were preempted by Ukrainian nationalist radicals, and both hurt Ukraine itself far more than anyone else.

Formally, the legalization of the Donbass blockade is a response to the LDNR’s nationalization of Ukrainian (aka Akhmetov’s) enterprises on its territories. In practice, this was a forced response to the blockade itself, which was being carried out by far right militant groups – probably financed by Kolomoysky, Akhmetov’s oligarchic rival – in contravention of official Kiev’s wishes.

We know that this is the case because Kiev did half-heartedly send armed policemen to do… something, to get the blockade lifted. But the “activists” proved a tougher bunch, spraying pepper spray into the cops’ faces and forcing them to retreat with their tails between their legs. It is also worth noting that Ukraine’s European backers are shocked and distraught by the legalization of the blockade, which effectively puts an end to Minsk II. Finally, Poroshenko himself described a law currently being touted in the Rada to formally cut off the LDNR economically as something that would “cut away these territories, build a wall, and gift them to Putin.”

But whereas the resulting “Transnistriazation” of the LDNR is not in Kiev’s interests – LNR head Igor Plotnitsky has already announced the possibility of a new referendum on joining Russia – being seen as weak and not in control of its own armed batallions is even more potentially fatal, so this is probably best seen as a face-saving measure more than anything else; a facade of vindictive incompetence meant to hide the even more damning fact that it is the armed militants, not Kiev, who wield the real power in the country.

We should look at Turchinov’s second edict, the request to put sanctions on Russian banks operating in the Ukraine, in the same vein.

Remarkably for a supposed “aggressor” country – the long-suffering denizens of Donbass can only wish! – Russia has been by far the biggest investor in the Ukraine. Since 2014, its banks and corporations have invested an astounding 175 billion rubles, including $1.7 billion in 2016 alone – that’s 38% of total investment. This has happened even as many of the Euromaidan’s most ardent fans, such as Thomas C. Theiner, have long since given up on the new Ukraine as a corrupt sinkhole).

According to Central Bank vice head Jacob Smoly, the sanctions will illegalize “all operations that benefit the mother banks – such as the allocation of interbank credits, the purchase of securities, and the payment of dividends and other operations” (incidentally, why isn’t CB head Valeria Gontareva making this statement? Is she packing her bags already?).

This came on the heels of “activist” attacks on Russian state bank Sberbank buildings in Kiev and Dnepropetrovsk.

For its part, Sberbank has instituted limits on withdrawals from its Ukraine branches. Should the government take over the banks, it will still have to guarantee Ukrainians’ deposits in those banks. In the worst case, this might usher in a more general bank run. Even though that is unlikely, it still can’t be any good from the perspective of Ukraine’s creaking banking system, which has yet to fully cope with the nationalization of Kolomoyksy’s PrivatBank three months ago.

In any case, Russian pro-Donbass and nationalist websites are cheering this news, since they view it as a well-deserved strike against a “financial fifth-column” that has, in effect, subsidized Ukraine’s ATO while being too cowardly to provide services to Donbass or even Crimea.

Alexander Mercouris connects this to a power play by Yulia Tymoshenko against Poroshenko. As he noticed, these recent events come in the context of her secret visit to Washington D.C. in early February, where she allegedly had a short meeting with Trump; her longstanding alliance with Turchinov; and, more speculatively, a more recent alliance of convenience with Kolomoysky and his mercenary batallions.

ukraine-elections-2019-polling As Mercouris argues, this is but the next step in the factional struggle between Poroshenko-Groysman and Tymoshenko-Kolomoysky, with the latter becoming increasingly ascendant.

As of the past year, opinion polls have shown Tymoshenko consistently ahead of Poroshenko in a direct runoff. Since Poroshenko has presided over a depression, failed to achieve any of the Maidan’s promises, and now has an approval rating lower than Yanukovych’s lowest, this can hardly be surprising.

Outright rebellions by restive oligarchs in 2016 were checked by US intermediation, when in the course of a ten hour conversation Obama’s VP Joe Biden made it clear to Kolomoysky and Poroshenko’s reticent PM Yatsenyuk that mutiny would not be tolerated.

This time, however, the US is less likely to intervene to save Poroshenko’s bacon. Trump is a man known to bear grudges, so in all likelihood he has it out for Poroshenko and his allies, who (unsuccessfully) tried to sabotage his own election in favor of Hillary Clinton.

If this interpretation of events is more or less accurate – that Poroshenko has lost substative control of the functions of state to allies of Tymoshenko, and that Tymoshenko herself has acquired Washington D.C.’s “jarlig” authorizing her to rule the Ukraine – then the Chocolate King’s days in power are surely numbered.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Politics, Ukraine, War in Donbass 

It has emerged that on February 27, the PM of the DNR Alexander Zakharchenko issued an edict fixing the borders of the DNR at the current frontline.

The document, posted at the website of the DNR’s Ministry of State Security, illegalizes border crossings between the DNR and “territories under the temporary authority of Ukrainian state authority” that occur outside official DNR transit points.

For context, this order was signed at around the same time that Akhmetov’s industrial empire in the LDNR was nationalized.

Since the leaders of the LDNR have little autonomy of their own, this is another datapoint that the Kremlin has decidedly given up on Minsk II, and the plan of shoving back the Donbass into Ukraine in exchange for at least a de facto recognition of Crimea as Russian.

This is a good thing. I have long argued that this “clever plan” was too clever for its own good and was as likely as not to blow up in the Kremlin’s face. In any case, the Maidanists – held hostage by armed nationalists – have themselves have made the issue moot by refusing any degree of compromise.

Ideally, Russia should just recognize the LDNR, for instance, by recognizing the results of the 2014 referendum on self-rule, which won with 89% support (mirroring a 1994 referendum, in which 84% of Donetsk and Lugansk oblast citizens voted in favor of federalizing the country). Since the DNR’s border is now formally just the frontline, it could then be moved arbitrarily; for instance, to the Dnieper.

There have been some minor hints of a decisive solution to the Ukrainian experiment. On March 2, Zakhachenko had made a strange proclamation that the Ukrainian state only has 60 days left to live. According to rumors reported by Igor Strelkov from his unnamed sources in the “elites,” Azarov is already busy “arranging the Ministerial portfolios” of a “liberated Ukraine.”

I don’t put much credence in this. There have been many such scares – both “war scares” and “total surrender” scares – in the past two years, and none of them have ended panning out. This isn’t how Putin works. He reacts to things instead of acting; and he loves leaving things ambiguous and half-done.

Nonetheless, it is obvious that some kind of shift really is occuring. According to more recent rumors, also reported by Strelkov, the increasingly evident failure of Minsk II is moving the Kremlin to solidify the LDNR’s status as a Big Tranistria. However, the LDNR has about ten times as many people as Tranistria, so subsidizing it would be a much greater strain on the checkbook. It therefore has to be made economically self-sustaining.

Thus, according to Strelkov’s sources, a number of processes have come into play.

First, there would have to be a reorganization of cadres in the Republics; to this end, commissions have been sent to the LDNR to assess their administrative, fiscal/economic, and military status. The results aren’t good – understandably so, since their existence was originally planned to be temporary (see above).

LNR PM Igor Plotnitsky is named as a prime candidate for “retirement” – unsurprisingly so, given the dark reputation he has acquired for wacking NAF commanders who came into conflict with him. To the contrary, Zakharchenko may see a rise in his status, becoming head of a united LDNR.

Strelkov has a very low opinion of the advisors to the NAF, and many of them, he claims, will sooon be retired and replaced with more capable people.

The economy is to be made more self-sustaining, so that supporting the LDNR is no longer such a burden on Russia even as the region continued sending taxes to Kiev in the past two years of the conflict. There is already a huge mass of evidence that this is happening. Namely, the nationalization of Akhmetov’s empire, following the Donbass’ blockade by far right Ukrainian militias, and the acceleration of economic integration with Russia, eased along by the recent decision to start recognizing LDNR documents.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Novorossiya, War in Donbass 

This is in response to the blockade of coal shipments from the LDNR into Ukraine by right wing militants, who oppose absolutely anything that helps finance the republics. The resulting energy blockade threatens the stability of what appears to be a surprisingly vigorous Ukrainian economic recovery, and puts Poroshenko – with his record low ratings – in further political jeopardy.

It is also far more significant than the recognition of LDNR docs a couple of weeks ago. That was, essentially, just a humanitarian gesture by Russia. In contrast, nationalization of Ukrainian enterprises does two major things:

(1) It moves the commanding heights of the economy under the DNR legal framework, which has been – for lack of alternatives – integrating with Russia for the past couple of years. That means no more taxes to Ukraine. That means the cutting of one of the last major bonds that tie them to the Ukrainian polity and, consequently, the feasibility of any future reintegration scenario that stops short of a complete Putinsliv (total Russian abandonment).

(2) It severely undercuts the already precaurious position of Rinat Akhmetov, the Poroshenko-allied oligarch who controls most of the heavy industry in the Donbass (there are residual rumors that the reason the DNR offensive to take Mariupol was called off was to allow his enterprises to continue exporting from an internationally recognized port). More speculatively, this might also weaken the position of Alexander Khodakovsky, Akhmetov’s main protege in the DNR, who has been its main voice of compromise and supporter of reintegration with the Ukraine.

Incidentally, it is widely believed that the militias behind the blockade are financed by Kolomoysky. Since having had his challenge to Poroshenko undercut by US diplomatic intervention, and punished through the privatization of his bank Privatbank, Kolomoysky’s fortunes have been on the wane. This might be his play to restore them. First, Akhmetov is Kolomoysky’s direct rival, and Kolomoysky standards to directly benefit from his losses. Second, he has very ample reasons to want revenge against Poroshenko. Third, he has allied himself with Yulia Tymoshenko, who has re-emerged in the past year to become the highest polling politician in Ukraine, including vis-a-vis Poroshenko (not that this is a high bar to clear). The blockade gives Kolomoysky leverage, and the brewing energy/economic crisis may create the conditions to trigger new parliamentary elections that will allow him to replace Poroshenko’s PM Vladimir Groysman with his own allies.

For all the Kremlins’ convoluted efforts to reinsert the LDNR into a federalized Ukraine, all those “clever plans”/mnogokhodovki keep on getting shattered against the Scylla of uncompromising, uncontrolled Ukrainian nationalism and the Charybdis of Ukrainian clan politics. But then again, maybe that was the idea in the first place. Maybe the true mnogokhodovka succeeds through failure; maybe the intent was always to achieve peremoga through zrada.

Well, okay, probably not. Still, this is great news regardless.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Ukraine, War in Donbass 

Over the years I have studiously avoided commentary on MH17 because of the banal fact that I am not an expert on plane crash forensics.

The official Dutch inquiry that has just released its findings says that it was downed by a Buk missile that came from rebel-controlled territory.

Many serious people have come to other conclusions, as well as – no surprise – Russia itself. As Patrick Armstrong points out, the Americans have yet to release the intelligence they claim to have. Malaysia had for some reason been excluded from the official investigation.

As is usually the case, which version you “believe” in depends heavily on your partisan sympathies.

That said, there are two points I’d like to bring to the discussion which would be valid even if the results of the Dutch inquiry are true.

1

This does not mean that it is was entirely the fault of the rebels and Russia.

First off, a little background on Soviet SAMs.

They are very complicated systems. It takes several people to operate them. There are several control panels, and you have to turn the right knobs and press the right buttons in the correct order to acquire and kill your target. Just locking in requires locating the target on a fire control radar while adjusting for range, elevation, and azimuth. No nice 3D graphics here; targets are interferences on 1D axis or abstract blips on 2D spaces. Then you must pick the guidance mode for your missile based on factors such as whether or not your target is flying low, its speed, and whether or not it’s jamming. Then you fire the missile, which involves its own set of procedures. If your target then experiences a sudden change in speed and altitude, it probably means you’ve scored a hit. Feel free to imagine a climatic BOOM going off in the skies above, but all you’re going to hear is the continuing drone of electronic machinery.

You can explore the fascinating life of a SAM operator for yourself by downloading the SAM Simulator, a video game developed by a Hungarian aficianado of 1960-1980 era Soviet SAM systems.

9k33-osa

Screenshot of 9K33 Osa main control panel from SAM Simulator.

Here are some (Russian language) technical guides on their various SAM systems. They can be 100-200 pages long and contain calculus.

So what’s the point of it all this? The point is that operating a SAM is learnable for the average enthusiast, conscript, or Donbass rebel – you can figure out how to knock balloon targets and maybe even big airliners traveling in straight lines after a couple of hours study. Becoming good at it is another matter entirely. The Buk is a newer and somewhat simpler system than those in the SAM Simulator, but for the amateur it remains a foreboding forest of knobs and analog screens. I only explored the SAM Simulator for a few hours back in 2014, so I can’t attest to it personally, but my impression from discussions on the game’s forums is that to “git gud” you’ll need to invest a few dozens of hours in it, and while it’s about as “hardcore” as simulator as they come, it’s still not real life.

One more possibility. Consider the following two allegations:

First, that MH17 was diverted to fly over contested airspace.

Second, that MH17 was being trailed by two Ukrainian Su-25′s. (Some conspiracy theories allege that they were actually the ones who shot it down).

An alternate possibility, however, is that the Su-25 escorts and possibly the diversions were an intentional Ukrainian policy to increase the chances of an AA missile fired by an inexperienced rebel crew bringing down a civilian airliner. After drawing out the missiles, the Ukrainian fighters would engage their counter-measures and fly off, while the missiles would autonomously home in on the target with the much bigger radar signature – that is, MH17 itself. The resulting fallout would hopefully pressure Russia into withdrawing support for the rebellion.

This theory is the only one that more or less the only one explains all aspects of the case and integrates most of the main narratives.

It explains why the Americans have no released their intelligence. If it was to show the Su-25′s were directly or almost directly below MH17 then questions would be asked.

It explain why we have not seen a consistent or credible alternate theory from Russia. Because there is none. While if it where to push this theory it would then have to admit that at the it is to some extent culpable.

And it would also explain the findings of the Dutch report. It might well be just true.

2

Nor would it in any case qualify as an act of terrorism.

It cannot qualify as an act of terrorism because as phone conversations between the rebels in the immediate aftermath prove, and as the US itself has admitted, the shooting down of MH17 if done by the rebels was based on the mistaken impression that it was a legitimate military target.

That said, in the immediate aftermath, there were hystrionic calls from certain quarters to invoke NATO’s Article 5 on behalf of the Netherlands. Lithuania’s Dalia Grybauskaite called Russia a terrorist state.

At the very least, perhaps this should be used to step up sanctions against Russia, until it acknowledges its guilt, pays compensation, and hands over any suspects to an international tribunal.

Well, I suppose you *can*. But then for consistency’s sake you would also have to label the US and Ukraine (ironically enough) as terrorist states themselves.

In 1988, a missile fired by a US warship in Iranian territorial waters took out Iran Air Flight 655 over Iranian airspace The US tried to avoid responsibility, and never apologized to Iran, but eventually paid up some blood money.

In 2001, Ukrainian air defense shot down Siberia Airlines Flight 1812 during exercises. They initially tried to avoid taking responsibility until a Russian investigative team came up with definitive proof. Never apologized, though they did eventually pony up blood money.

If you do not support declaring the US and Ukraine to be terrorist states on this basis, with all the consequences thereof – massive sanctions, pariah status, etc. – then you have no ground to do so either for the DNR or Russia. The most that could be legitimately demanded is for Russia to pay the relatives.

However, it is hardly a secret that the Western world order operates by double standards, so I suspect that a more likely template for the future of the MH17 case is that of Pan Am Flight 103, better known as the Lockerbie bombing. At a first approximation, this would involve putting international (Western) pressure on Russia to not only pay out compensation to the victims of MH17, but to admit its guilt and to hand over any suspects to an international tribunal. It might be used as a justification for prolonging or extending sanctions, and potentially even declaring the DNR and LNR terrorist organizations.

 

Another August, another war scare. Intermittent reports of Russian military forces “staging” near Ukraine. Are the guns about to honor the title of a famous history book once again?

Almost certainly not. Or at least, not by Russia’s hand.

(1) Though you could play a drinking time for every mention of “Gleiwitz” in conjunction with the recent terrorist incidents in Crimea, no evidence has since been furnished in support of the theory that Russia set the whole thing up. As Alexander Mercouris points out, the Ukrainian counter-allegation that the shootout was the result of drunk friendly fire and that Evgeny Panov, the ringleader of the plot, had been abducted from Ukraine to play the role of scapegoat is “too fantastic for anyone to take seriously.”

(2) The Russian version of events – that there were two shootouts with Ukrainian sabotage teams, during which an FSB officer and a Russian Airborne Troops soldier were killed – remains the most self-consistent and credible one to date. Elements of the Maidanist Ukrainian elites have ample reasons to mount such an operation, including: (a) Spoiling the Crimean tourist season; (b) Disrupting the forthcoming elections in Crimea; (c) Remedying the decidedly embarassing lack of “native” Crimean resistance to the so-called “Russian occupation”; (d) Reigniting Western interest in Ukraine, which has been slacking off lately (see below).

(3) Although there has been some tough rhetoric from Russia after the incident – Putin talked of Ukraine “resorting to the practice” of terror – nothing much has since come of it apart from Russia cancelling the next round of Normandy Four talks scheduled for September in China. Otherwise, diplomatic relations with Ukraine aren’t even getting cancelled, a possibility that was mooted by Izvestia in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. All in all, this has been an extremely milquetoast response to terrorist attacks organized out of a hostile neighboring country, for which Putin has been excoriated by Russian nationalists. “The “war with the junta” has been postponed for an indefinite period,” Igor Strelkov complained, pointing out that the Kremlin now seems to be more concerned with Syria instead of the plight of the Donbass under Ukrainian bombings. “Putin saved the Syrians. And is prepared to save them further. Together with the “cursed pindosy” and “Turkish backstabbers”… that is, “dear friends.” Hard to keep track of these things. But what’s the difference, in the end? The main goal, after all, is to save Syrians.

(4) The 40,000 Russian troops – a consistently familiar figure throughout the past two years – that have been claimed to be at Ukraine’s border are not enough for a proper invasion. Stratfor estimated that Russia would need about 30,000 personnel to seize the “land corridor” to Crimea, though that was back in early 2015 when the Ukrainian Armed Forces were much weaker. The much cited recent Institute for the Study of War map purporting to display Russian military dispositions as of August 12 shows that at best only half that number is present on the requisite front.

understanding-war-map-crimea-2016-august

(5) The Saker might claim that “Ukronazi attack against Novorussia would be exceedingly unlikely to succeed” and even that “Novorussians are capable of not only stopping a Ukronazi attack, but even of an operationally deep counter-attack,” but people who are actually on the ground seem to disagree. For instance, here is what Alexander Zhuchkovsky, an NVF insider and generally reliable source, has to say about that: “I am a big patriot of the DNR and our Armed Forces, but one has to be objective. It’s clear to everyone that without Russia’s help we will not be able to last even a week against the Ukrainian Armed Forces, if they throw all their forces against the LDNR. Not because we are worse than they are (we’re better), but simply because the correlation of forces are against us.” At its core, the NVF remains a militia (opolchenie); a very well armed and trained militia, to be sure, possibly even the world’s most powerful one, but a militia nonetheless – good in defense, but not much of a factor in any truly large-scale offensive operations, and outnumbered 40,000 to 250,000.

(6) Some of the conspiracy theories have revolved around the idea that Putin is plotting a war to raise United Russia’s ratings in the forthcoming parliamentary elections: “He constantly needs a series of quasi-wars to keep the pro-Putin majority mobilized,according to an analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center. Such ideas are based on a fundamental misreading of the Russian economy and society – namely, that living standards have collapsed due to the sanctions and that the Putin system is in crisis (which one can creatively tie in with recent political reshufflings, such as the replacement of Sergey Ivanov with Anton Vaino as head of the Presidential Administration). In reality, the recession has been mild, at least so far as recessions go; it has almost certainly either ended or is close to ending; and according to opinion polls, United Russia faces absolutely no challenges to its dominance (if anything, electoral law chances since the last elections cycle means that United Russia is likely to actually increase its share of the Duma’s seats this year).

russia-vs-ukraine-military-power(7) Like it or not, but outright war with Maidanist Ukraine has been ruled out from the beginning, as the more perceptive analysts like Rostislav Ischenko have long recognized. If there was a time and a place for it, it was either in April 2014, or August 2014 at the very latest. Since then, the Ukrainian Army has gotten much stronger. It has been purged of its “Russophile” elements, and even though it has lost a substantial percentage of its remnant Soviet-era military capital in the war of attrition with the LDNR, it has more than made up for it with wartime XP gain and the banal fact of a quintupling in military spending as a percentage of GDP from 1% to 5%. This translates to an effective quadrupling in absolute military spending, even when accounting for Ukraine’s post-Maidan economic collapse. Russia can still crush Ukraine in a full-scale conventional conflict, and that will remain the case for the foreseeable future, but it will no longer be the happy cruise to the Dnepr that it would have been two years earlier.

By the same token, however, now is absolutely not the worst time for the Ukrainian Maidanists themselves to heat things up.

(1) The economic collapse has stabilized, but the economic miracle that Maidanists have been promising as soon as Ukraine was to be “freed” from Russo-Soviet kleptocracy has yet to happen. The economy remains in the doldrums, and along with it, Poroshenko’s approval ratings, which are currently lower than Viktor “Vegetable” Yanukovych’s absolute minimum while he was in power.

(2) Due to nationalist pressure, Ukraine is incapable of implementing Minsk II in principle. The longer it dithers, however, the more Western politicians lose interest in it, and even begin to talk up the possibility of restoring normal relations with Russia again – the new Tory government of Theresa May and her FM Boris Johnson in the UK are the most striking example to date, though similar sentiments have been expressed by people such as Italian PM Matteo Renzi and German FM Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Poroshenko’s failure to stem corruption is beginning to lose him the trust even of the most hardcore foreign svidomy activists. The Maidanist regime has even been unable to fulfill one of the Maidan’s most elementary demands, that of visa-free travel with the EU; they have only succeeded in making said “bezviz” an ironic meme to make fun of svidomy on Ukrainian discussion boards.

(3) And if all this isn’t enough there is also the trumpening presence of Donald Trump on the American electoral horizon – a man who has made it clear he has no quarrel with Russia, doesn’t see enabling Eastern Yuropeans to pursue their Russophobic vendettas as a good use of American resources, and recognizes the democratic choice of the Crimean people to be with Russia. Unsurprisingly, Maidanist politicians have been lining up to ritualistically denounce Trump as a “dangerous outcast” and thrice-accursed traitor to freedom/democracy/fluffy kittens/etc. A Trump victory will therefore be a huge ideological and PR blow against the Maidan regime, even if Trump’s apparent Russophilia turns out to be phantasmagorical and contents himself with leaving Obama’s realistic non-interventionist policy towards Ukraine intact.

A new war nicely takes care of all three factors.

(1) Permanent austerity can be ascribed to perpetual war, while providing a pretext for suppressing dissent from aspiring political challengers. In particular, the collapse of Poroshenko’s ratings has made Yulia Tymoshenko, a businesswoman-politician previously discredited by corruption allegations that went into the hundreds of millions of dollars, a credible political figure once again (if only because the rest of the Ukrainian elite is at least equally bankrupt in terms of legitimacy). Moreover, Tymoshenko has become the chief political patron of Nadia Savchenko, the “hero airwoman” who has lost the trust of the svidomy who had formerly adulated over her in record time by making overtures to the heads of the LDNR and calling for direct negotiations with them. This is not welcome news to the ruling Maidan elites.

(2) Limited war with Russia will make it much harder for the US to “abandon” its “ally” Ukraine, and will torpedo current trends towards normalizing relations between Russia and the West. Since Ukraine’s strategy boils down to the West “suffocating” Russia before Russia suffocates Ukraine, that would be a highly positive development that might even be worth the loss of extra territory to the LDNR. The Western media can be relied upon to blame Russia regardless of what happens, and by extension, the people they have associated with “enabling” Putinist imperialism – namely, Donald Trump (incidentally, this is why him getting rid of the competent-but-compromised Paul Manafort as head of his campaign is a regrettable but prudent strategic move).

(3) This brings us to Peter Lavelle’s notion of an “October Surprise”: Poroshenko is “Washington’s man in Kiev,” he is in a “position to offer some favors,” and considering that the Maidan regime was ultimately enabled by Hillary Clinton’s proteges at the State Department – that is, the Nuland gang – it’s not exactly a wild bet that he will deliver:

What is now needed and is probably being planned is a manufactured incident to make it look like Russia attacked and invaded Ukraine. The American public will be rallied with the usual mantra “something must be done” and the Trump campaign will be left flat footed, red faced, and denounced. Joe McCarthy will smile with glee from the grave.

At the beginning of 2016, I predicted a 30% chance that the war in Donbass will reignite sometime this year. However, this was done under the assumption that Trump only had a 40% chance of securing the Republican nomination, and before he had made his antipathy to the Pozocracy really explicit. So, unfortunately, I have to raise this to as high as 50% now.

And if that coin toss leads to renewed war, it’s a safe bet that Ukraine would be the main instigator.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Geopolitics, Ukraine, War in Donbass 

Just a collection of completely random, not very important news snippets.

(1) Diplomats’ Dissent Bolsters Calls for U.S. Assault on Assad:

For now, the Obama administration seems inclined to agree. A U.S. official who did not sign the memo but read it told Foreign Policy that the document was unlikely to influence Oval Office policy due to the relatively low rank of the signatories. None of the officials have reached the level of assistant secretary and some are not directly involved in Syria issues on a daily basis — though the list does include the consul general in Istanbul and a Syria desk officer.

The Obama administration has also repeatedly made clear that it believes strikes would merely add to the bloodshed without improving the political situation on the ground, while potentially getting ensnared in a decades-long conflict. Despite stinging criticisms from Arab and European allies, Obama has expressed no regrets about his handling of Syria in public comments and there was no sign Friday that the White House was ready to radically alter its strategy or tactics.

In a briefing with reporters on Air Force One, White House Deputy Secretary Jennifer Friedman said Obama “has been clear and continues to be clear that he doesn’t see a military solution to the crisis in Syria.”

“That doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be discussions or a variety of conversations and a variety of opinions,” she added, “but that fundamental principle still remains.”

Still, Robert Ford, the former ambassador to Syria who resigned in protest over White House policy, said the dissent shows that “there’s a very broad consensus among working-level people that are trying to address different pieces of the Syria crisis that … the policy is not succeeding and will not succeed, and that the administration needs to change course.” He noted that it is “remarkable” to see 51 signatures on a cable that rarely gets more than four. {AK: Remarkable indeed – assuming this protest was really as “grassroots” as it is implied to be}

The memo is also a vivid reminder that Secretary of State John Kerry and the diplomats who work for him have consistently pushed for a more militaristic approach to the conflict than their colleagues at the Pentagon. During closed-door meetings in the past year and a half, Kerry has repeatedly pushed Obama to launch airstrikes at Syrian government targets — calls the White House rejected. His pleas were so routine that Obama reportedly announced at a National Security Council meeting last December that only the defense secretary would be allowed to offer proposals for military strikes.

Obama and Kerry clashed in 2013 when the president pulled back at the last moment from threatened military strikes against the Assad regime over its use of chemical weapons, even though Obama had declared a “red line” over the issue. Kerry’s aides were miffed because the secretary of state just a few days earlier had given a muscular speech virtually promising a military response to Assad’s use of the weapons.

The protest memo appeared aimed not at the secretary of state but at the president and his aides who have remained steadfastly opposed to any direct confrontation with the Assad regime.

zhuchkovsky-no-putinsliv(2) There will be no “Putinsliv” in Donbass.

Morale amongst the NAF (Novorossiyan Armed Forces) tends to fluctuate amidst the flurry of contradictory signals the Russian official state tends to give them: Sometimes extending their full support, at other times extraditing NVF fighters to Ukraine and making noises about maybe pushing them all back into Ukraine for “humanitarian” reasons (these episodes tend to coincide with EU votes on the renewal of sanctions; speaking of which, they are 99% certain to be extended on Jun 28-29).

Well, a day ago Alexander Zhuchkovsky, an “insider” in the NVF and a generally reliable source, posted a most intriguing message:

Today I received an almost 100% guarantee that Donbass will not be given up to Ukraine (I say “almost” because Donbass will be surrendered in the case of a liberal coup in Russia, but I don’t think that will happen).

What kind of guarantee this is, I cannot say, but I write this post so that my readers and commentators could stop endlessly recycling this trope about the imminent return of Donbass with a nudge from Russia. All scaremongering about this topic will be see as either idiocy or deliberate intimidation of LDNR residents.

This does not imply that Donbass will soon be in for a bright future, and that one has to unconditionally approve all aspects of Russia’s policy towards Ukraine/LDNR. Unfortunately, today’s fragile and uncertain condition can well last for a long time yet, and from Russia we may once more hear outrageous claims that are at odds with our aspirations.

But that there will be no return of today’s LDNR territories into Ukraine under any conditions (except a hypothetical change in power in Russia) is an absolute, 100% certainty. I call on colleagues to bear this in mind, and opponents to live with this.

With this in mind in our rhetoric and our action we must actively propound the only possible and desirable solution – the incorporation of Donbass into Russia (at a minimum, at maximum – the return of all Novorossiya, which at this stage is a possibility that also cannot be excluded).

(3) RAND releases study calling for the rotation of 30,000 NATO troops into the Baltic states (which is the number that it calculates would be sufficient to deter, and if necessary hold up long enough, a Russian attack). This comes in tandem with the largest NATO exercises in Eastern Europe to date. Its pretty clear now that what little remained of the old American guarantees to the Soviet Union on NATO expansion are dead. Rest in peace, George Kennan. (We will see whether all this is more bark or bite during the Warsaw NATO summit on July 9).

(4) NATO explicitly adds the cyber realm to the domain of conflicts where Article 5 can be invoked. (In recent days, the DNC servers were “allegedly” hacked by Russians with state support).

(5) Russia begins bombing US-backed rebels in Syria (“Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia isn’t entirely certain who it’s bombing in Syria because “moderate” forces are mixed in with “terrorists.””)

(6) The PNAC crowd have made their fealty to Hillary Clinton even more resoundingly clear – a candidate who unlike Obama will certainly be no break on their regime change ambitions.

(7) Meanwhile, China and Russia continue to draw closer, with Putin at the ongoing Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum even suggesting a Eurasian economic partnership.

***

This is not to suggest all these are interlinked, let alone part of some singular conspiracy, but the sheer mass of these largely under the shadows developments does suggest there’s a lot of intense reshuffling of the chess pieces going on behind the scenes.

For instance, Russia’s intervention in Syria has been very successful to date, but its forces there are very vulnerable. This will become germane if Neocons Inc. come to power again – establishing a “no fly zone” over Syria is fraught with the danger of escalation, considering the presence of the Russian Air Force. But whereas Russia is completely outclassed by NATO in that theater, it has local dominance in the Baltics. Add two and two. As such one possible way of looking at the RAND proposal is as a ploy to annul Russia’s range of feasible responses to getting squeezed out of Syria.

But where does the pressure then get redirected? It is of course a longshot, but maybe (2) is somewhat related.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Geopolitics, NATO, Syria, War in Donbass 

One of the main thrusts of the Maidanist Ukrainian and Western information campaign against Russia during the Ukrainian conflict has beeen the allegation that the NAF (Novorossiyan Armed Forces) were mostly manned by Russian citizens or even the Russian military.

This is not to say that there haven’t been voices of dissent. For instance, Prof. Paul Robinson (and Russia blogger) has argued that 80-90% of NAF fighters were locals, while even The Times’ Russia/Ukraine correspondent Mark Franchetti confirmed in summer 2014 on the Shuster Show in Kiev that based on his observations Russians amongst the rebels were a decided minority – for which he was roundly booed by the Ukrainian audience.

However, thoughout the past two years, anyone making such claims in the West ran the risk of being branded as a Russian shill. Anyone making such claims in Ukraine itself ran the risk of actually being arrested and imprisoned for the crimes of “separatism” or “denying Russian aggression.”

It just so happens however that the basic truth of the arguments that Russian citizens constituted a decided minority of NAF fighters and consequently that the war in Donbass was primarily a Ukrainian civil war has recently been confirmed – and by an organization whose Ukrainian nationalist pedigree is unquestionable – the “Peacekeeper” website.

This Ukrainian government linked website’s most significant informational peremogas (victories) include publishing the personal details of anti-Maidan journalists, some of whom like Oles Buzina would soon after be murdered, and doxxing Russian airmen serving in Syria while calling for Islamic State to take care of them and their family “by the canons of sharia.” More recently, they published a list of Ukrainian and foreign journalists who had received accreditation from the DNR, naming them “scoundrels” and “collaborators” and listing their personal details (the list included such famous Kremlin propagandists as Simon Ostrovsky).

Three weeks ago, the Maidan’s telephone directory for assassins came out with its latest coup – a list of “fighters and mercenaries” recruited by the DNR during the summer of 2014.

But, hidden within this peremoga, there was an awful zrada (betrayal): As first calculated by Ivan Katchanovski, the data revealed that of the 1,572 recruits, some 78% of them were Ukrainian citizens – a good majority of whom were from Donbass. 19% were Russian citizens, 2% were citizens of other countries, and the rest had unknown citizenship. Bearing in mind the high intensity of personal and familial ties between the Donbass and the Russian Kuban inherited from Soviet days, the percentage of DNR fighters who are true “foreign adventurists” is probably closer to just 10%. This is less or even much less than in many armed conflicts that are incontrovertibly regarded as civil wars.

Of course Ukrainian coverage of this leak paid zero attention to the inconvenient question of national compositions, and Western coverage too singularly failed to latch on to it apart from a few geopolitically orientated and generally “Russophile” alt media sites and a couple of academics such as Ivan Katchanovski. These facts are however crucial to understanding the depth of local anger towards the Maidan regime in the Donbass and why the Kremlin will find it hard to “shove” it back into Ukraine even if it really wanted to.

 

For those who missed this affair, the aptly urled Russian website bs-life.ru (Business Life) published a secret Kremlin directive to compensate the relatives of 2,000 Russian military KIA and 3,200 WIA .

Alarm bells should have rung from the start.

Looks like the very epitome of a serious professional website dedicated to investigative journalism.

Looks like the very epitome of a serious professional website dedicated to investigative journalism.

Start with the website. The design runs on a free, mass-use Joomla magazine template. I daresay most functional one-author blogs look nicer. WHOIS lists no contacts, the owner being identified as a “private person.” Until it became “famous” in the past few days, it did not register in Alexa’s top 100,000 global websites (for comparison, Unz.com is 53,764 on the list, and Russia Insider, launched less than a year ago, is at 27,585). That a site built in one day for $10 sometime in 2011 would be the one to acquire a leak of such seminal importance seems unlikely to say the least.

The figures also don’t pass the face validity test. Both UAF and NAF casualties are estimated around 2,500 to date, though they are likely substantial underestimates. Even so this would imply that the actual Russian Army accounted for a substantal portion, perhaps the majority, of the Novorossiyan military deaths. Considering its massive preponderance in training and equipment over Ukraine such ratios would be implausible even if it was doing the regular fighting. In actuality, the only time that we can be reasonably sure it got involved was in the Ilovaysk battle, in which the Ukrainian forces suffered a crushing defeat. The 2:3 ratio of killed to wounded is also utterly implausible for any modern army. That’s the kind of ratios you had in pre-antibiotics wars. In WW2, the ratio was 1:3. In modern wars, it’s at least 1:5.

These are some basic investigative and logical questions that any journalist writing about this should have been asking.

In their defense, though, Novy Region, the Ukrainian news site that first republished the story, is engaged in a propaganda war against Russia, as is 90%+ of the Ukrainian media. That is understandable.

And in their defense, neither Paul Goble nor Paul Roderick Gregory, the two Anglosphere pundits who did most to “break” this story in the West, can be considered legitimate journalists. Both are glorified bloggers, much like myself.

Goble’s primary schtick consists in recycling stories from marginal anti-Kremlin commentators and “laundering” them for mass citation in the Western MSM. This is a role for which he is eminently qualified by his long years of service in the CIA, RFERL, the State Department, and various democracy promoting NGOs (quadruple-sic!). As I wrote in an expose on him five years ago: “If one fine day some random Tatar blogger on LiveJournal decides to restore the Qasim Khanate, we’ll certainly hear about it on his blog… and guess what, we do!” His piece “uncovering” Russia’s military casualties for Euromaidan Press, his latest gig, is just his latest and unusually successful laundry day.

I don’t really know much about Gregory, apart from him being an economist who loves the 1%, blogs for Forbes, and really, really dislikes Putin and Russia (including up to and beyond the point of conspiracy theories). I suspect he got the story from Paul Goble since his post was published 11 hours after Goble’s and it is unlikely that they were both monitoring Novy Region, let alone BS-Life.

The real question is how come a whole range of Western media outlets reprinted these claims more or less unquestioningly, including: NBC, The Times, The Independent, IB Times.

Incidentally, The Independent is (was?) considered to be a pro-Russian paper, on account of it being owned by a Russian oligarch (as if Russian oligarchs ever cared about anything beyond their wallets). It’s coverage was singularly incompetent (see bolded), not a surprise perhaps considering the author also writes for VICE and BuzzFeed. And for some reason the Indy expects people to pay for its wisdom.

Whilst Russia continues to deny that its troops are fighting in the ongoing Ukrainian conflict, a respected news site in Russia seemingly inadvertently published secret figures that detail deaths and causalities of forces on the ground.

In fairness, some journalists were properly skeptical of this from the start, such as Leonid Bershidsky, who is likely the best (i.e. least ideological, most fact based) anti-Putin journalist writing at a high profile venue today.

A couple days later, this rumor was taken apart by RT, by revealing the elementary fact that there was no such publication as Business Life. Then the whole affair was comprehensively debunked by Ruslan Leviev (in Russian and translation), a liberal Russian journalist who has actively hunted for traces of Russian military involvement in Donbass. He uncovered that the site was a simple phone number phishing website whose owner went so far as to use stolen identities to keep the scam going.

And some Western journalists such as the AFP’s Dmitry Zaks were very, very sad to see the truth come out.

I said they needn’t worry too much. As is all too typical in this conflict, it is the sensationalist, headlines-generating news items that make the biggest impact. Reddit is probably the single biggest political discussion forum in the West, where upvotes are directly linked to visibility.

Let’s do a quick quantification using the number of upvotes at /r/WorldNews as a proxy:

BS + Reality +
Paul Goble 1129 RT 2
Forbes 374 Ruslan Leviev 0
NBC 219
Independent 28
TOTAL 1750 TOTAL 2

What can one say?

Well, first… Kremlin bots! Olgino trolls! Where the hell are you?!?

Second – the rather mundane observation the vast majority of people who only read the articles on /r/WorldNews – without delving into the comments, which at least in this case strip away the BS quite effectively – would come away reinforced in their impression that Russia is directly involved militarily in Ukraine on a large scale, is getting its ass kicked, and that popular opinion will turn against Putin sooner or later at which point the usual color revolution textbook would be pulled out. This is not an isolated case. It’s just the banal reality of information war. The people who “ordered” this story and then laundered it into the MSM don’t care that it was quickly exposed and that it thus has a short shelf life. It still dominated the Ukraine headlines for a couple of days, so it’s mission accomplished so far as they’re concerned. Only a tiny percentage will maintain interest long enough to see it debunked. So far as the rest are concerned the only effect is to reinforce the dominant narrative and the audience for that is primarily Western.

This is all rather obvious, of course, but even – especially – obvious truths still have to be repeated every so often.

 

The Guardian’s Shaun Walker reports on the latest activities of Andrey Babitsky, the anti-Putin journalist who was fired from RFERL close to a year ago amidst a conspiracy of silence.

In an office just off Lenin Square in Donetsk, a small group of journalists is plotting the launch of a new television channel, to be based in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. In the polarised media climate around the conflict in east Ukraine, it is no surprise that a new channel is being set up in the Russia-backed statelet. More surprising is the journalist leading it: Andrei Babitsky, who for years was accused by many in Russia of being a traitor to his country.

Here is my full article on Babitsky’s account of his work and departure from RFERL, including translations from an interview he did with a Czech newspaper (the single biggest exposure his case had in the Western MSM).

TL;DR – Working with RFERL since 1989. Feted as an anti-Putin hero journalist for explaining how Chechens decapitating Russian POWs on camera isn’t sadism but a way of making the war more palpable. Emigrated to Prague, where RFERL has its HQ, permanently in 2000. Continued traveling to Russia occasionally, most notably for taking an interview with the terrorist Shamil Basayev – he of Beslan school siege fame – in 2005. Consistent in his support for local autonomy and self-determination, he was okay with Crimea’s reincorporation into Russia, for which he was suspended without pay from RFERL. Soon afterwards, he uncovered evidence of Aidar war crimes in Donbass, which he videod and sent back to RFERL HQ. Was almost immediately fired from RFERL.

Virtually no mention of a Russian journalist being fired from an American state-owned media organization in the Western media, apart from a single interview in a Czech newspaper several months after the fact. Compare and contrast with the days long furor in the Western MSM when an American journalist resigned from a Russian state media outlet live on air. If this isn’t evidence of the Western media being controlled – it doesn’t have to be direct – then I don’t know what is. At any rate, Babitsky evidently agreed:

“I think the situation has changed a lot since the conflict sprung up between Russia and the west. And to a significant extent, Radio Liberty, which for a long time was a journalistic organisation, has become a propaganda instrument,” Babitsky claimed in an interview in Donetsk recently.

Which is why he is now setting up a TV channel in Donetsk.

He described his new project as an “independent internal channel which will fill a new niche”. It will be called Dialogue and the idea is to hold discussions between Donetsk and the rest of Ukraine.

“We want to move away from the language of hate, to use more analysis, and to try to bring in voices from the other side of the lines,” said Babitsky. He insisted the channel was not affiliated with state structures in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, and said the modest funding had come from local businessmen. He plans to hire around six people to get the channel up and running within a month.

“Humans should remain human in any circumstances, and that is difficult to achieve in times of war. Hatred towards the enemy twists human feelings and we need to hear calm voices.”

It is worth pointing out that Guardianista sentiment towards Babitsky is about 75% negative, accusing him of being a Putinbot and a turncloak. Here is probably the best comment there, from one “Shatford Shatford”, an amusing blend of gay fever and Putin Derangement Syndrome (the latter displayed here in the implication that his claws reach all the way to Prague):

He was given a choice:

Either you shut up and start saying you love Putin or we a) jail you for 30 years; b) gun you down in the street and blame it on homosexuals; or c) repossess the homes of all your family members and kill their pets.

Sometimes people just aren’t willing to sacrifice everything for their ideals. Not everyone is Thomas Moore.

Babitsky is no friend of Putin or even of Russia. Nor, as it now turns out, is he an uncritical friend of the West either, as Boomerang Babitsky has come flying back to make a plant square on their face.

As for his own journey, Babitsky said there is nothing surprising about someone who was once considered a traitor by many Russians now espousing pro-Kremlin views.

“At that time I felt for the Chechens, because I thought that if these people want to live by their own traditions and move away from Russia then they should be able to. Probably we should have listened to those moods and not killed so many people,” he said.

“It’s the same here. I think Russia is playing a significant role here, but the reasons are not to be found in Russia, they are internal. This is a civil war, where the interests of two parts of Ukraine that consider themselves linked to two cultural traditions are clashing with each other.”

He is simple a man for whom his own principles come first. For all too many, especially those Westerners who view themselves as being invariably on the side of the Light, Truth, Progress, and Independent Media, the very notion is well nigh inconceivable.

 

The second one in my new series. This one is substantially shorter, as will be most consequent sitreps.

Gallup

Has conducted a very comprehensive poll about attitudes in the EU, Russia, Ukraine, and the US to various aspects of the Ukrainian crisis. Here is the link to it. I will highlight the most important findings.

1) Support for joining NATO, EU, military aid is high in Anglo-world, France, and Poland, but substantially lower in Germany and Italy.

nato-public-aid-to-ukraine-gallup

2) Willingness in NATO countries to defend allies. Incidentally, all of the figures here are higher than the results of a previous Gallup poll about willingness to fight for one’s country (presumably under any circumstances).

nato-defense-poll

3) The headline figure is “NATO publics support Ukraine, but Ukrainians want more.” But ironically, the NATO median for Ukraine becoming a NATO member (57%) is higher than in Ukraine itself (53%).

4) NATO countries and Russia both generally have an increasingly poisonous view of each other, but that is hardly news.

nato-russia-poll-gallup

5) A plularity of Ukrainians, even in the west, support a negotiated settlement with the separatists and Russia over continued use of military force to fight the rebels. There is also significant support for Donbass receiving greater autonomy from Kiev (a plurality in the east). That the regime ardently refuses to even talk about this once again illustrates that it represents the viewpoints of only the west of Ukraine and its zealously unitary ideological ambitions.

6) It’s a fun and counterintuitive fact but Putin is more popular in the US (21%) than he is in any major NATO country bar Germany (23%). Moreover, the US takes the lead if only West Germany is counted (19%), since the overall German score is influenced by the unusually Russophilic attitudes of the East (40%). Maybe because Americans respect manliness, at least marginally more so than limp-wristed Europeans if dank memes on the Internet are anything to go by? But I have no idea, really.

However, tallying attitudes towards Russia the country as opposed to Putin its leader, France is the most Russophilic (i.e. least Russophobic) major NATO country, at 30%, while Poland (15%) and the UK (18%) are unsurprisingly the least Russophilic.

7) Russians’ confidence in Putin (88%) and his foreign policy (82%-90%) remains high. There is slim majority support for Donbass becoming either part of Russia or an independent state; near universal opposition to Ukraine joining NATO, strong majority against it joining the EU, and plurality support for it joining the Eurasian Economic Union.

As covered earlier, as in the West towards Russia, Russian opinion towards its Western “partners” has plummeted.

russia-opinion-on-nato-countries-gallup

8) 66% of Ukrainians think the economy is very bad, while another 28% think it’s somewhat bad. Only 3% consider it good. With inflation running at 60% and possibly imminent default, this is not surprising.

It appears that the “current government in Kiev” has already lost the great bulk of its popularity, with 59% saying it is exerting a bad influence, and more than 60% of respondents disapproving of Poroshenko’s performance on the economy and corruption (cleaning up corruption was one of the Maidan’s main promises).

While 56% of people in Western Ukraine primarily blame Russia for the violence in Eastern Ukraine, only a third in the East do so. After more than a year of intensive anti-Russian propaganda it is indeed impressive that the figures are so low. Nonetheless, it must be acknowledged that Russia’s once high approval rating in Ukraine has almost completely collapsed, and is now at 21%, while the approval rating of the EU (72%), NATO (58%), and the US (69%) has increased.

Protests, Disorder, Far Right Antics

With things relatively quiet, the Right Sector, Azov, and sundry “activists” and other freaks tend to run amok, and this is pretty much what’s been happening this past week.

Kiev gay pride march violently dispersed by Right Sector after 30 mins (the Guardian feigns ignorance on the identities of the assailants). As Alexander Mercouris explains, following their betrayal by Yanukovych and the Maidan cooup, the Ukrainian security services are terminally demoralized and can no longer be relied upon to maintain regime stability. But far right hoodlums are more reliable. So their criminality and thuggishness has to be tolerated, even when it goes against the regime’s cargo cult efforts to ingratiate itself with the Western white men (e.g. by allowing an LGBT parade). Only in the most extreme cases, like that of Alexander “What bitch will take the gun from my hands” Muzychko and Vita Zaverukha, does the regime dare crack down on them.

A mob of 40 masked thugs carried out a series of knife attacks in Kharkov that landed three people in hospital in serious condition. The Russian consulate in Kharkov was pelted with paint and eggs. Some more Lenin statues went down, but that’s not really news since it happens near every week. (If Ukrainians so greatly want to purge the man who did more than any other to create Ukraine as we know it, Russians should not complain). Euromaidan and Right Sector activists occupied the Communist Party office in Odessa. In Kiev, activists set up tents and demanded the overthrow of Poroshenko. Right Sector marched in Lvov against Poroshenko, yelling traditional classics such as “Glory to the Nation,” “Glory to Ukraine,” “Putin khuylo” (“Putin is a dickhead”) interspersed with newer creations like “Poroshenko khuylo” and “Yatsenyuk khuylo.” Here is what one activist had to say about it:

Poroshenko’s regime is no better than Yanykovych’s. It’s the absolute same! Patriots are sitting in prison. At the same time, Poroshenko and his team gave the LGBT community the go ahead to have a gay parade in Kiev. Sane people, with traditional values and normal morals, decided to protest this degeneracy. They were made into criminals and terrorists, and locked up. Did the Heavenly Hundred fight so that Ukrainian patriots ended up in prison? People, prepare for the worst, tighten your belts, for nothing good will come from this regime. We have to unite. Only the people can take everything in their own hands, and not some oligarchs of non-Ukrainian lineage.”

While we wish them the best in their glorious struggle, unfortunately at least up till now they have been all bark and no bite when it came to confrontations with the Poroshenko regime. Because… see above. Birds of a feather flock together.

US Won’t Train Azov

azov-emblemBecause they are Neo-Nazis. Here is what its head Andrey Biletsky has to say about its ideology:

The historic mission of our nation in this critical moment is to lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival. A crusade against the Semite-led Untermenschen.

Its emblem features not one, not two, but THREE, Nazi-associated symbols.

Although it goes against the traditional no-fascists-in-Ukraine line generally adopted in Western rhetoric, I suppose that doing anything otherwise is just a tad too much in the way of hypocrisy overload.

But politics aside, this is rather fortunate, since enthusiasm for fighting in the ATO is much lower amongst typical Ukrainians who are not far right nutters. And not only lower enthusiasm, but probably lower competence too: According to those same American instructors, Ukrainian soldiers don’t know even the most elementary things, such as turning up for training without their helmets and putting unexploded grenades in their pockets.

ATO Chronicles

A deserter from the ATO was arrested for raping his one year old daughter. This is far from the first case of Ukrainian soldiers losing their minds once they get back from the war, inflicting a continuing toll on society, and it will not be the last. No wonder that even according to the commander of the pro-Kiev batallion Tornado, some 99% of the people he knows in Donbass hate Ukraine by now.

An advisor to Poroshenko confirms that junta casualties are systemically underestimated (see the last sitrep for background).

LNR/DNR, Crimea, Federalism

The story – seized upon by the Ukrainian media – about the DNR/LNR refusing to recognize Crimea as Russian, unsurprisingly and predictably, turned out to be complete BS.

As seasoned Russia expert Paul Robinson points out, insofar as all this reintegration with Ukraine talk is concerned, the “DNR is merely going through the motions,” almost certainly doing so under Russian pressure, which in turn is connected with Minsk 2 and the hope of reversing Western sanctions.

Ukraine Economy

Negotiations deadlocked. IMF says it will continue support Ukraine regardless, because it is implementing reforms. But creditors can sue because in the case of a default (or a “moratorium” on repaying debt, but that’s really the same thing), which is looking ever more imminent, they can make the case that they should be compensated first.

Sanctions

If Putin was counting on Minsk 2 to make the EU ease up on sanctions when they are up for review this July, the chances of that are slipping, with Obama maintaining that sanctions will be maintained after the G7 meeting and the EU Parliament Vice President Richard Charnetsky even touting the possibility of Russia being cut off from SWIFT (the economic “nuclear” option).

One of the main criticisms of Putin from the patriotic/nationalist right (e.g. Sputnik i Pogrom, El Murid) has been that if you are going to rob a bank, you might as well take $1 billion (Novorossiya) instead of $1 million (Crimea). Either way, the bank and the feds (the US/West) will be out hard for your ass. It’s a pretty simple-minded argument, all things considered, but if the sanctions continue or especially if they are stepped up even further, then it will be only further fuel for their wrath, and that is something Putin would wish to avoid. So at a minimum we can be sure that tightening sanctions will be unlikely to have the effects that the US wants, i.e. Russia’s capitulation in Ukraine.

 

This is the first post in a new series that I intend to do in 1-2 week intervals every Friday. Just like Patrick Armstrong does with his RF Sitreps on Russia Insider, these sitreps are intended to cover both developments in the ongoing War in the Donbass. mozgovoy

Assassination of Alexey Mozgovoy

On May 23, the cortege of Mozgovoy, the second most powerful man in the LNR (Lugansk) after President Plotnitsky, was shot up and he was killed along with his press secretary, driver, and bodyguards. Responsibility remains unclear. The pro-Kiev partisan organization Teni (“Shadows”) claimed responsibility, but since it frankly exists more on Facebook than anywhere else, that is unlikely.

The LNR itself blamed Ukrainian special forces, accusing them of seeking to undermine the Minsk Accords. This is a bit likelier, but there is no clear motivation for it, and it is not obvious that Ukraine has the capacity to mount a special operation of such complexity deep in the enemy rear. Objectively speaking, the most likely culprits – and this is an assessment shared by many ardent Novorossiya supporters as well as its enemies – is either Plotnitsky, the Kremlin, or both.

He was long a thorn in the LNR’s side, on bad relations with Plotnitsky personally, for his independent, populist stance and uncompromising opposition to the Minsk Accords. He wanted to press the war on until Kiev’s liberation.

But paradoxically, he also enjoyed a degree of support in the rest of the Ukraine greater than that of the other separatist leaders because of his reputation as a “genuine” person, and his stance that both the people of Donbass and Western Ukraine had a common enemy in the form of Ukraine’s oligarchs and political elites (one of the few things that most of Ukraine can agree on).

His populism and uncompromising stance was painted by his enemies as a kind of Orthodox extremism. His most infamous stunt was presiding over a “people’s trial” of a rapist who was sentenced to death (though the sentence was never carried out), and expressing ideas about the proper role of women that are, how should we put it… would have been considered unremarkable in the 19th century (though in his defense, that particular comment was clearly meant to be sarcastic).

If so, this would not be the first assassination of its kind. The warlord Alexander Bednov, nom de guerre Batman, was killed under similarly shady circumstances this January. If so, this would make it part of a ongoing project to centralize power in the breakaway republics, with the Byronic idealists who drove the initial rebellion getting displaced by toady but effective political managers vetted by Moscow. (Igor Strelkov, unlike Batman and Mozgovoy, was probably wise getting out when he did, assuming himself guaranteed invitations to Russian nationalist talk shows and conferences for life and acquiring himself a hot young wife in the process).

In his case, Buronic in the literal sense: He was also a surprisingly decent poet, and as it turns out, a tragically prophetic one, too (translation by Gleb Bazov):

It is a gift to die in May— An easy task to dig a grave, And nightingales will sing their song Inimitably, like their last.In May, the thunder of storms supplants A funerals’ dismal songs and sounds, And rain that comes instead of tears Dissolves the memories’ regret.The shelt’ring barrow of the grave Beneath the emerald of grass; A cross is a redundant mark Among a grove of weary birch.Beneath the rustling newborn leaves, With irrepresible thirst for life, The sun has yet to burn the grass, And every thing is animate.It is a gift to die in May, To stay behind in vernal dew. And though I could not do it all, There are no doubts where none remain… It is a gift, to die in May… Не плохо в мае умереть, Могильщику копать удобно. И соловьи всё будут петь, В последний раз, так бесподобно.Под грохот первых майских гроз, Вместо унылых отпеваний… И дождь, прольётся вместо слёз, Он смоет грусть воспоминаний.Могильный холмик приютит, Под покрывалом трав зелёных. Пусть даже крест там не стоит, Среди берёзок утомленных.Под шелест листьев молодых, Что только к жизни потянулись. Пока ещё нет трав седых, А только, только всё проснулось.Не плохо в мае умереть… Остаться в свежести весенней. И хоть не смог я всё успеть, Но не осталось уж сомнений… Не плохо, в мае умереть…

Saakashvili appointed head of Odessa oblast

See my main article here. In short, Saakashvili’s legend is mostly a con: His achievements in improving the economy and corruption are both massively overstated, Georgians are leaving his “Switzerland of the Caucasus” at an unprecedented rate, and his political and military decisions were complete flops. He is however good at running cargo cults in relation to the West. At least in that respect he’s the real deal. How much more pathetic is it that Ukraine is making a cargo cult of a cargo cultist?

Renewed fighting in Maryinka

This week saw the most severe uptick in fighting since Minsk 2, with the hottest action taking place in Maryinka on June 4 where the NAF launched a largescale counterattack in response to Ukrainian attempts to take the area a couple of days previously. In the familiar pattern, both sides accused each other of breaking the Minsk Accords, and as per usual, both were correct. These events were the single bloodiest since the Debaltseve cauldron. Regime forces claimed 5 of its soldiers dead versus 80 separatists. The separatists in their turn said they suffered 20 dead to the junta’s 400. Colonel Cassad, a pro-Novorossiya but militarily objective analyst with contacts on the ground, said the higher figures are more likely, reporting that just one NAF unit whose representatives he spoke with suffered 25 dead by itself, while total regime losses were estimated at 200.

~Note on Casualties

At this point, a little aside about casualties in general, for reference in future discussions. Both sides in this conflict have sought to minimize their own casualties, while maximizing those of their enemy. Done for obvious propaganda reasons, this has frequently reached the level of farce, both on the Ukrainian side and on the Novorossiyan side.

While the “official” death count for both sides is currently at around 2,000 I suspect the real figures are probably 2x-3x higher, since “real life” accounts from both sides that I have observed during this conflict seem to very consistently paint a much bloodier picture than official figures. Be that as it may, the one thing that I will argue that we can be relatively sure of is that regime and separatist losses are approximately equal. This is dictated not by any detailed tallying or anecdotal impressions but by basic military theory. Given some rudimentary knowledge of force concentrations, equipment, attack/defense status, and the intrinsic quality of the troops (or combat effectiveness value to use the technical jargon), you can make fairly reliable predictions about relative casualties.

Applying this to the Donbass conflict, the first two are broadly equal, with the NAF now as well armed as the Ukrainian forces thanks to Russia’s military surplus stores, though the Ukrainians still probably enjoy a quantitative edge. But this is irrelevant for most engagements since what matters is achieving a preponderance of firepower at the local level, and neither side is very good at that because neither side has the capability to wage true combined arms warfare (Russia does, and the Ukrainian military would be crushed within days were it to ever overtly invade. This was true in April 2014, and it remains true today). The NAF is usually on the attack, which is bad, since the standard casualty ratio for attackers against prepared positions with everything else kept equal is 1.3:1, rising to 1.5:1 against heavily prepared positions. Hence the high casualties incurred by the NAF in the monthslong and strategically dubious assaults on Donetsk Airport. Overall troop quality is low on both sides, though by all accounts morale is much higher in the NAF. (Contrary to sensationalistic reports of Pskov paratroopers getting massacred in their thousands by Ukrainian cyborgs at the Airport, the Russian Army has for the most part avoided direct involvement in the fighting, limiting itself to logistical and informational support. The only two major exceptions to this pattern coincided with Ukraine’s two biggest defeats – the Ilovaysk and possibly the Debaltseve cauldrons).

In short, adding up all these factors, neither the UAF nor the NAF has a clear advantage, so the logical conclusion is that – whether they are closer to 2,000 or to 6,000 – casualties on both sides are broadly similar. Incidentally, this conclusion is backed up by POW counts. POWs are harder to hide than military losses. As of March 2014, some 1,800 separatists were under or had passed through Ukrainian captivity, versus 2,800 Ukrainians. This discrepancy is likely mostly or entirely explained by the higher morale of the NAF, which presumably lowers the proclivity to surrender.

Transnistria blockade

Transnistria, including the big Russian military base there, is now fully blockaded on both sides. Any resupply will now have to take place by air. S-300s have been moved to Odessa, and Saakashvili has been made its governor. There are rumors – so far as I’m aware, only rumors so far – that Ukraine is building up forces along the Transnistrian border. All pretty ominous, and worth keeping an eye on. I don’t think anything really serious will come of this in the foreseeable future, but then again, you can never overestimate the insanity of the Maidan ideologues.

The End of Novorossiya?

Novorossiya as a political project has been officially frozen, ostensibly because it is incompatible with Minsk 2. Pro-Ukrainians gloated and rejoiced. Pro-Novorossiyans wailed over yet another “betrayal,” ironically mirroring nationalist Ukrainian discourse centered around це зрада чи перемога (is this betrayal or victory?). In reality, Novorossiya as a political project died out sometime around April 24, 2014, when Putin decided against repeating the Crimean scenario in Eastern Ukraine in a meeting with his top siloviki. What use is a parliament for eight republics when only half of two of them are in said country in the first place? Since then, and especially since the appointment of Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky as heads of the DNR and the LNR in August, it has for all intents and purposes been running on empty. The two republics already possessed all the organizational structure they needed while Novorossiya’s putative head, Oleg Tsarev, had no particular roots in or connections to the Donbass, and they had no particular wish to share power and funds with alternate structures especially once Novorossiya lost most of its Kremlin backing. Nothing will substantially change on the ground. The People’s Militias will continue fighting under the umbrella Novorossiya Armed Forces, with its blue on red Saint Andrew’s cross flag.

The plan now, as it has been since April 2014, is to federalize Ukraine through the Minsk process, guaranteeing the East wide autonomy which would serve to complicate Ukraine’s integration with the EU and make NATO membership essentially impossible. Like it or not, but Novorossiya is superfluous to this. This is not a “victory,” but nor is it a betrayal. It’s an acknowledgement of today’s realities. Here are a few good articles which will provide a good background understanding of the political processes at play:

Besides, there is one more very important thing that particularly panicky pro-Novorossiyans should take solace in: The completely uncompromising nature of the Maidan ideologues themselves, who absolutely refuse to negotiate with the DNR and the LNR anyway.

“We must ensure fair elections. And we will conduct dialogue with the Donbass, but with a different Donbass, a Ukrainian one.” The same position, but in even harsher terms, was expressed at the Forum by the Prime-Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. He is prepared to talk to the representatives of the Republics “only once they are behind bars.” “By the way, we have enough empty cells,” he added. According to Yatsenyuk, his government will never deal with the current representatives of the Donbass. “We will communicate only with legitimate representatives of this region, and we want to conduct legitimate elections there,” said the Prime-Minister. Poroshenko also stated that in Ukraine there is no internal conflict whatsoever. “We have no internal conflicts,” said Poroshenko. “On the contrary, Ukraine has now become more united than ever.” “I will do everything possible to ensure that neither language, nor faith, nor the questions of land, nor NATO, nor any other questions split Ukraine,” promised the President. “The second language in schools and universities in Ukraine should be English, not Russian.”

You don’t need friends with enemies like these.

Right Sector angry about DNR gun rights – DNR legalizes virtually all firearms and Right Sector has a hissy fit about it.

  • “That’s right! The freaks in the DNR are allowed to have guns, while Ukrainian citizens have to call for help from useless cops.”
  • This sneaking suspicion that it is Motorola and Givi who are the ones fighting against bureaucracy…”
  • This is shameful. :(“
  • Checkmate, bitches? And if the Rada now buries the proposed law about civil firearms possession, maybe we could join the DNR under conditions of autonomy… :(“

In short: Good on the DNR. And excellent trolling material against the Right Sector and sundry stormfags who claim they are defending Europe against totalitarian commie orcs.

MH17 Developments – Frankly I haven’t studied this issue in any depth and don’t have a strong opinion on it either way. Still it’s clear there’s tons of problems with the official narrative:

War crimes by Right Sector punitive batallionsOpenly and proudly documented by one Yashka Tsygankov, a Right Sector militant, on Facebook. They attacked a DNR blockpost, killing everyone except for one person who surrendered. Here he is in captivity: right-sector-war-crime I suppose it is theoretically possible that his two trigger fingers were blown off in the firefight while leaving no other visible injuries. Of course if you believe that you will believe anything. This kind of action was prevalent in the Yugoslav Wars and is the very definition of a war crime. Of course this being committed by the West’s lapdops means that Facebook will not censor it (unlike say Graham Phillips, who has been blocked from posting to Facebook many times now for posting things like the victims of Kiev’s shellings) nor will their be any outcry in their media about it. In fairness, it should be noted that he denies being tortured. But he is in captivity in some dank, dimly lit basement. So his words can’t be reasonably taken at face value.

EDIT 6/6: He has since been exchanged in a prisoner swap, and in an interview with Patrick Lancaster released just now, he has now confirmed that Right Sector did in fact cut off his index fingers (so also makes clear that previous interview was under duress, which makes Ukraine’s Channel 5 also complicit in this war crime). In response to his maiming, he said that it reinforces his belief in the justice of the Novorossiyan cause, that it is all entirely on the conscience of his captors, and that he intends to rejoin his squad and learn to shoot without his index fingers.

Want your wages? Have a call-up paper instead – Workers at a Kherson oblast plant picketing the Rada over nonpayment of their wages – the factory’s owner having become a deputy – were instead presented with mobilization papers. Recipients included disabled workers, as well as specialized workers without whom the plant would be unable to function. Corrupt deputies, unrestrained oligarchy, farcical pressganging, and the wholesale destruction of labor rights are all kind of everyday occurences in post-Maidan Ukraine, but it’s still somewhat remarkable when they all come together in such a perfect confluence. IMF comes a-calling – Yatsenyuk happily obliges.

Ukraine has stopped paying out welfare payments for pensioners, World War Two veterans, people with disabilities, liquidators of the Chernobyl disaster beginning with Monday, since the law of December 28, 2014, on stabilizing the financial condition of the state has come into force. It affects practically all social security beneficiaries, without defining the mechanisms for providing targeted assistance to low-income groups. Kiev has eliminated transport, healthcare, utilities and financial benefits for former prisoners of Nazi concentration camps and recipients of some Soviet-era orders and titles. Compensations to families with children living in the areas contaminated by radiation from the Chernobyl accident will be no longer paid either.

Stories from Oles Buzina – Translation of a 2009 article by the anti-Maidan journalist, slain by Maidanite orcs with the complicity of the Poroshenko regime and to Western indifference, by Nina Kouprianova: The SS Galizien versus Ukraine. Here are a few quotes from it:

One of the neo-Nazi parties that currently preaches the tradition of SS Galicia Division in Ukraine calls it the “treasure of the nation.” Which nation, I wonder. Like the Austrians during the Habsburg days, Germans did not place much value in the Galicians as war material. If in the Russian army, the natives of Ukraine became generals and field marshals, then in the Austrian one, they became junior officers, at best. An Austrian, Hungarian, or a Croatian native could have a brilliant military career in the Habsburg Empire, but not Galicians. … Not only the commanders of Galicia Division were German, but also the entire headquarters and the vast majority of officers all the way to the company members. Brigadeführer Fritz Freitag led the Division. Major Wolf-Dietrich Heike ran the operations department. Intelligence was under Hauptsturmführer Fritz Niermann. Supply department—under Hauptsturmführer Herbert Schaaf. Sturmbannführer Erich Finder was the Commander’s aide. Friedrich Lenhardt and Herbert Hähnel were assignments officers. Karl Wildner, Hans Otto Forstreuter, Paul Herms, Karl Bristot, and Friedrich Beyersdorff commanded the regiments. Even the pharmacist was German—Hauptsturmführer Werner Benecke (not to be confused with any Beniuk [a Ukrainian name—ed.] by any means!). According to Andrei Bolianovskii, the Division “got a German command spine.” … The Germans filled Galicia with new soldiers from among those volunteers that they initially rejected, no longer embarrassed of their height, but ones who were almost never used in open battles against the regular units of the Red Army. The main task for these “divisioners” was fighting Slovak and Yugoslav guerrillas. Once Galicians even had a skirmish with Ukrainian partisans under Kovpak, who carried out a sabotage raid into Slovakia. German command valued the military qualities of SS Galicia very little. For example, only one of its members was awarded the Iron Cross—Commander Freitag himself—whereas these awards were not uncommon in other Waffen-SS divisions.

But really worth reading in full, not only to see what Buzina was about, but because it is pretty interesting and eye-opening stuff, and you can really see why it would incite such raging murderous hatred on the parts of Ukrainian nationalists.

Poroshenko Corruption – Curious that it is the RFERL writing about this: Questions Raised Over Poroshenko’s Role In Valuable Kyiv Land Deal.

 
Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.